Sunday, 27 September 2009

Kseniya Simonova's Sand Animation

Kseniya Simonova, the winner of Ukraine's Got Talent, has become a YouTube phenomenon by telling stories through sand animation.

Here, she recounts Germany conquering Ukraine in the second world war. She brings calm, then conflict. A couple on a bench become a woman's face; a peaceful walkway becomes a conflagration; a weeping widow morphs into an obelisk for an unknown soldier. Simonova looks like some vengeful Old Testament deity as she destroys then recreates her scenes - with deft strokes, sprinkles and sweeps she keeps the narrative going. She moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene "you are always near".

It might just happen. Her war story has over 2,600,000 views on YouTube and is provoking an interesting debate in the comments section. Jgoo24 notes that "sand is her bitch" and few would argue with this. "Maybe the most magnificent master piece of art of all time" says DevinsDad90, not a man prone to hyperbole. And also "i just jizzed in my pants" (thank you, deaddevil6).

Leaving aside the never less than disturbing thoughts of the YouTube massive, it's clear that Simonova has achieved her goal as an artist. If we take it that art's purpose is to illuminate the world in a new way, provoke a reaction, somehow alter the consciousness of the viewer then her work is a huge success. And that high art can come from a format that produced Stavros Flatley and that it can be popularised and sent around the world is surely some kind of modern miracle.

Via The Guardian - TV & Radio Blog  & YouTube

Monday, 14 September 2009

An upside down world

The man in the suit is French conceptual artist Philippe Ramette and the gravity-defying view from his perch is not a trick. How on earth does he do it?

Irrational Contemplation, 2003 (detail). Photograph: Philippe Ramett

The French artist Philippe Ramette believes nothing should ever be faked. His improbable, gravity-defying poses might look like classic Photoshop, until you notice they are peppered with little incongruities. "You see a tension in my hands, my red face is far from serene as the blood rushes to it, my suit is ruffled."

A sculptor, Ramette rose to fame in the 90s as part of the French contemporary art scene, creating strange wooden and metal instruments and objects. Photography was the logical next step, and through it he has created an odd, neo-romantic universe, using a carefully planned, rational approach to create totally irrational situations. In France, his bizarre images have been compared to the work of Buster Keaton and the world of silent cinema. For him, they are a statement about gravity, weightlessness and man's relationship to the landscape.

Ramette, who still sees himself a sculptor rather than photographer, goes to extraordinary lengths to create his implausible set-ups, building hidden metal supports that he calls "sculpture-structures". Metal rings tether him by the ankles as he hangs motionless from the Grimaldi Forum building in Monaco, his trousers and tie strapped down and his hair gelled flat to give the impression of being upright. Above a winding road in southern France, a metal seat hidden by his suit juts out from a slab of rock, holding him up. Both photos are then turned on their heads. Every image is the exact reproduction of one of his drawings; sketches that he considers to be film storyboards, reconstructed by his faithful team while he directs the image. "I never question whether it's going to be complicated," he says.

In Balcony 2, he is standing on a balcony in the middle of Hong Kong harbour, contemplating the sky while seemingly managing to levitate above the water. He says the image first came to him in a dream in the mid-90s. For the shoot, a watertight tank served as an underwater float for the balcony, put in place by a barge and crane. Ramette then secured his feet on supports, leaned back and clung to the wood. During the initial attempts, he was soaked by waves and had to swim to safety.

He craves an effect of absolute, implausible serenity. For the series Rational Exploration Of The Undersea, he wore lead weights under his suit and around his ankles, having convinced a team of divers to work with him in a minutely rehearsed underwater escapade off Corsica. When Ramette needed air, a diver would swim over with an oxygen tank, but before shooting his team had to wait for the whipped up sand and bubbles to clear in order to achieve the effect of stillness. "There I was in a suit on the seabed, weighed down and able to walk underwater as if on land, unaffected by the currents. For me, that was a real pleasure," he smiles.

Balcony 2 (Hong Kong), 2001. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
 Reversal Of Gravity, 2003. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
Rational Exploration Of The Undersea: The Contact, 2006. Photograph: Philippe Ramette

Rational Exploration Of The Undersea: The Wait, 2006. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
Rational Explanation Of The Undersea: Irrational Walk. Photograph: Philippe Ramette

by Angelique Chrisafis

Saturday 12 September 2009
The Guardian

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Iran Inside Out review round up - 56 artist survey show in New York described as mesmerising, a privilege

56 contemporary Iranian artists are presented in the attention-grabbing and timely Iran Inside Out exhibition at Chelsea Art Museum in New York (June 26 – Sep 5 2009).

Surprisingly – or perhpas not – only 35 artists in the show reside inside Iran and the other 21 dispersed outside Iran. Together they contribute 210 works of painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation on themes such as gender, war, and politics. Complemented with forums and film screenings, theatre performances, music recitals, and panel discussions, Iran Inside Out is part of Chelsea Art Museum’s 2008-2009 “The East West Project”.

In this round up, art experts and critics from the New York Times to the Huffington Post give their perspectives on this exhibition and report that they are enthralled, mesmerised and surprised. In this rich and challenging show unexpected findings and themes abound. Be sure to scroll down and read Huffington Post’s Marina Bronchman who discovers a controversial new view of the veil and its effect on sexual and gender expression.

Pooneh Maghazehe, Hell’s Puerto Rico Performance Still, Digital C-print 2008 copyright artist and courtesy Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller Gallery

In Search of the Axis of Evil
Exhibition section: On War and Politics
Alireza Ghandchi, photographs
Behrang Samadzadegan, There is No One Here But Me, 2006, acrylic on canvas
Behdad Lahooti, A Cliché for Mass Media, 2008, ceramic
Nicky Nodjoumi, The Guard, 2007, oil on canvas
Sara Rahbar, Did You See What Love Did To Us Once Again Flag #32, 2008, mixed media
(from left to right)
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Alireza Ghandchi
From the series Pathos, 2006 (left), Photograph, 50 x 40 cm
From the series Hemd, 2007 (right), Photograph, 50 x 40 cm
Exhibition section: In Search of the Axis of Evil / On War and Politics

Behdad Lahooti, A Cliché for Mass Media. 2008, Ceramic with print over
Exhibition section: In Search of the Axis of Evil / On War and Politics

Jinoos Taghizadeh , Rock Scissors Paper. 2009, On Lenticular Print
Exhibition section: In Search of the Axis of Evil / On War and Politics

Arash Hanaei, Abu Ghraib (Or How to Engage In Dialogue). 2007, Digital prints
Exhibition section: In Search of the Axis of Evil / On War and Politics

From Iran to Queeran and Everything in Between
Triptych by Darius Yektai; mixed media sculpture by Shirin Fakhim; in the background, Reza Derakhsahni (60 pieces)
Exhibition section: On Gender and Sexuality
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Shirin Fakhim, Tehran Prostitutes. 2008, Mixed media sculpture
Exhibition section: From Iran to Queeran and Everything in Between / On Gender and Sexuality
© Photo: Courtesy of Ministry of Nomads

Newsha Tavakolian, Maria. 2007, Print on photography paper
Exhibition section: From Iran to Queeran and Everything in Between / On Gender and Sexuality

From Iran to Queeran and Everything in Between
Installation with apples: Amir Mobed, Virginity, 1995 - 2009
Hanging piece by Pooneh Maghazehe
In the background (left to right)
Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Pahlavan II Ready to Order, 2008
Sadegh Tirafkhan, Sacrifice Series, 2003
Ramin Haerizadeh, Theater Group, 2005
Exhibition section: On Gender and Sexuality
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue
Pouran Jinchi, Alef Series, 2009
Elmer’s glue and Ink and varnish on canvas
In the background: Samira Abbasy, Eternal War, 2009, oil on gesso panel
Exhibition section: On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Farideh Lashai, I don’t want to be a tree. 2008, Video projection on canvas
Exhibition section: Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue / On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Siamak Filazadeh, ROSTAM 2 The Return. 2008, Photomontages
Shiva Ahmadi, Oil Barrel No. 3,4,5. 2009, Oil on Steel
Exhibition section: Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue / On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Siamak Filizadeh, Rostam Marries Tahmineh. 2008, Digital print on canvas
Exhibition section: Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue / On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms

Shiva Ahmadi, Oil Barrel No. 5. 2009, Oil on steel
Exhibition section: Iran Recycled: From Vintage to Vogue / On Reinventing the Traditional Art Forms

Works by Daryoush Gharahzad, Bita Fayyazi, Arash Sedaghatkish, Arman Stepanian
Exhibition section: Where in the World: City Quiz / On Street Culture within Tehran 
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Bita Fayyazi in cooperation with Rokni Haerizadeh
The Purple Scream. 2009, Fiberglass, acrylic and watercolor
Exhibition section: Where in the World: City Quiz / On Street Culture within Tehran
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Arash Sedaghatkish
Untitled. 2008, Watercolor on paper
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Shoja Azari, Windows Animation. 2006, Animation HD Video
Exhibition section: Where in the World: City Quiz / On Street Culture within Tehran

Pooneh Maghazehe, Embroidered dresses. 2008
Hell’s Puerto Rico. 2008, Performance still
Exhibition section: The Culture Shop: Special Sale on Stereotypes - All Must Go! / On Culture as Commodity
© Photo: Courtesy Chelsea Art Museum

Chelsea Art Museum: Curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath

The curators explain that Iran Inside Out defies the traditional perceptions of Iran and Iranian art:
An intimate look into the people, both inside and outside a country that is more complex than images of veiled women, worn out calligraphy and what a handful of other emblematic images would suggest…an examination of the means through which a young generation of artists is reconciling the daily implications of cultural and geographical distances with the search for individual artistic expression…offers an unexpected insight into the artistic energy of a culture that is constantly evolving as Iranians living both in and out of the country, come of age living and working in contentious societies.

(Art Radar editor note: the curators of Saatchi’s Middle Eastern show ‘Unveiled’ (in which Iranian art predominated) earlier in 2009 also claimed to go beyond the ‘worn out’ to present a more nuanced and alternative view of art from the Middle East - this was hotly contested by some reviewers who were surprised to find that, on the contrary, bloodshed, repression and gender inequality were ubiquitous and courageously expressed. See related posts section below for the review round up of Saatchi’s show).

Yet there are differences between insiders and outsiders say the curators:

Ironically, contrary to one’s expectations, the artists living abroad often draw more on their cultural heritage, while those on the inside focus more on issues of everyday life without much regard to what ‘the outside’ views as specifically Iranian references. Yet, within these disparities, one element stands strong: the recurrent references, sometimes ambiguous, at times emotional, often nostalgic and on occasion satirical and even tragic to Iran the country, Iran the past, the Iran which has been lost and that which could be found.

New York Times: Holland Cotter
Holland Cotter elaborates on how Iranian cultural references run through the show in this 30th-anniversary year of the Iranian revolution. For this critic, whether inside or out, artists are in touch with their cultural history.
Golnaz Fathi, who lives in Tehran, walks the line between calligraphy and abstraction in his paintings; so does Pouran Jinchi, who lives in New York. The heroic epic called “The Book of Kings” is given an action-hero update by Siamak Filizadeh of Tehran, but also in film stills by Sadegh Tirafkan, who spends part of his time in Toronto.
“Zaal arrives to help Rostam, ROSTAM 2 The Return” by Siamak Filizadeh(2008)

Female artists are given the spotlight, too:
Alireza Dayani’s fantastical historical drawings; Newsha Tavakolian’s photographic study of a transsexual; Saghar Daeeri’s paintings of Tehran’s boutique shoppers; Shirin Fakhim’s sculptural salute to the city’s prostitutes. Abbas Kowsari documents cadet training for chador-clad female police officers in Tehran. Less interestingly, Shahram Entekhabi draws chadors in black Magic Marker on images of dating-service models.

However, not all of them advocate social causes. Some artists employ a less aggressive tone:
Ahmad Morshedloo’s tender paintings of sleepers, Reza Paydari’s portrait of school friends and the mysterious little films of Shoja Azari are in this category.

Nevertheless, ambiguity does not equate with absence of politics in these artwork:

Repression both inside and outside Iran is under scrutiny in a piece by Mitra Tabrizian about the roles of both the West and Muslim clergy in Iran’s modern history. In photographs by Arash Hanaei, brutal scenes from the Iran-Iraq war and Abu Ghraib are played out by bound and gagged dolls.

Flavorpill New York: Leah Taylor

Sara Rahbar, ‘Flag #5′, 2007. Textile/mixed media, 65×35 inches

Taylor praises Iran Inside Out as one of the timeliest exhibitions in history:
With violence and political unrest roiling in that country, this exhibit takes a closer look at its inherent contradictions, tradition, culture, identity, and struggle — especially as faced by its younger generation of artists. As gruesome descriptions and footage of the election-protest clampdown continue to slip through Iranian censors daily, having Iran Inside Out’s creative insight into the country seems a privilege, indeed.

Huffington Post: Marissa Bronfman

Shocked and enthralled by the creative artwork at the exhibition, Bronfman comments:

A sense of duality was apparent in all the various pieces I saw at the exhibit, and there is an interesting geographical duality influencing the artists as well. The artists still living in Iran must struggle with avoiding government censors while not compromising with self-censorship, and those living outside strive to assume an “unlabeled artist-status” within a West-centric contemporary art world. The museum reminds us of their important commonality, however, such that all 56 artists desire to “establish an individual artistic identity free from the stigma of “stereotype” and “locality.”

She explains what draws her the most about the Tehran Shopping Malls by Saghar Daeeri:

Saghar Daeeri, Shopping Malls of Tehran – Acrylic (Aaron Gallery).

The paintings came to life with a stunning palette of vibrant colors and women depicted in a grotesque, almost fantastical rendering. Heavily made up faces, lacquered nails and peroxide hair instantly made me think these Iranian women were influenced by typical American ideals of beauty. However, Hanna Azemati, who works at CAM and presided over the show, offered a wonderful perspective that I hadn’t originally considered. She told me that, “Because of the compulsory veil, women express their femininity through venues that are allowed in exaggerated ways. They resort to excessive make-up, overdone highlighted hair, thin eyebrows, long colored nails and even suggestive behavior.” This dualism that Iranian women must grapple with, between veiling and self-expression, was communicated with profound contradiction and was really quite mesmerizing.

Related Links:

Friday, 11 September 2009

My Tehran For Sale

An Iranian woman seeking artistic and sexual freedom finds her ambitions stymied in Oz-funded, Iran-shot indie "My Tehran for Sale." Featuring superior bilingual perfs, the pic was lensed guerrilla-style in the titular city without knowledge of the Iranian government. It's an enterprising effort, but its erratic narrative reflects the drawbacks of filming in such uncertain circumstances. Toronto-bound "Tehran" is enjoying a tour of the fest circuit, but commercial prospects are few.

A dance party displays a funky, sexy Iran that will be novel to many. Oppressive fundamentalists shut the festivities down, but luckily, aspiring actress Marzieh (Marzieh Vafamehr) has just hooked up with returning Oz emigre, Saman (Amir Chegini), with whom she hides in nearby stables. Enchanted by Saman's Australian stories and fearing authorities seeking to quash her artistic freedom, Marzieh plans to leave Iran with him. Naturally, love neither runs smoothly nor is leaving Tehran so simple. Vafamehr is a natural on camera, but the meandering narrative takes its toll; when a cloying niece plays with a video camera for "experimental" visuals, the yarn loses its focus. Lensing is above average for a clandestine operation, as is sound quality.

A South Australian Film Corp., Adelaide Film Festival presentation of a Cyan Films production. (International sales: Media Luna, Cologne.) Produced by Julie Ryan, Kate Croser, Granaz Moussavi. Directed, written by Granaz Moussavi.

With: Marzieh Vafamehr, Amir Chegini, Asha Mehrabi, Mobina Karimi.

Camera (color, HD), Bonnie Elliot; editor, Bryan Mason; music, Mohsen Namjou. Reviewed at Intercolour Post House, Lindfield, Sept. 1, 2009. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery; Adelaide Film Festival.) Farsi, English dialogue. Running time: 97 MIN.

Watch 'My Tehran For Sale' Trailer


Related Links:
Tehran in the eyes of the young 
Screen Daily

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Women in Ancient Art

Author(s): Betty L. Schlossman and Hildreth J. York

The feminist movement has awakened our critical interest in woman's role and status in society. The culture-bound nature of our attitudes is cast in high relief not only by the investigation of contemporary mores, but also through the exploration of some of the cultures which are the cornerstones of Western civilization. Many of our attitudes in regard to women arise from the ancient Near Eastern origins of our Judeo- Christian traditions. It is interesting that so many of the roles of women today are close reflections of their Biblical prototypes. [1] The tenacity of these stereotypes is all the more surprising in view of the radical shifts elsewhere in society.

While it is difficult to resurrect the emotional and intellectual climate of the distant past, the art of the ancient Near East which has survived has an immediacy which surpasses the boundaries of time and space. It certainly can reveal to us some of the roles of women in antiquity, as well as the pervasive ideals of beauty in the various lands of origin.

The primal nature of the female element in the ancient Near East is demonstrated by the scope and variety of female images thought to be associated with cult practices at least as early as the Neolithic Period (c. 9000-3500 B.C.). In Egypt, for example, female deities continue to be represented and worshiped until the end of the Late Period (c. 700 B.C.-A.D. 100),[2] often incorporating important roles of women in human society (Fig. 1).[3] This is merely one example of a multitude of female divinities in Egypt who fulfill roles as diverse as personifying truth and justice (Maat), protecting women in childbirth (Thueris), guarding coffins and canopic jars (Neith), and representing the sky (Nut).

One of the best known female divinities of Mesopotamia is Inanna-lshtar, goddess of love and war. A manifestation of this goddess, represented as a nude woman lying on a couch, [4] obviously suggests ritualized aspects of sexuality and fertility (Fig. 2). The cult of this goddess in Phoenicia is thought to have involved ritual prostitution. A Phoenician ivory showing a frontal female head, usually seen within a window frame (Fig. 3), may represent the goddess or one of her votaresses. [5] The significance of the window motif and the woman looking out of it is nicely illustrated by the Biblical story of Jezebel (II Kings 9:30): "When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window."

There are numerous other examples of female cult images from Mesopotamia, some of which can be identified as specific members of the pantheon, while others, of commanding appearance (Fig. 4), cannot be associated with a specific divinity. Imagery of cult is expanded by a number of terracotta plaques which show abbreviated scenes from ritual practice or perhaps religious myths (Figs. 2, 5-8). Some are quite general and could refer to activities in other spheres of life, while the explicit erotic nature of Fig. 8 undoubtedly has ritual connotations. [6] The potency of the female principle in Iranian religion and imagery is well-attested throughout its early history (Figs. 9-12). The numinous powers of these forms are inherent in their fantastic or demonic features.

Not only can we glean information about the roles and status of women from these ancient artifacts, but as works of art, they more than likely incorporate the ideals of beauty or femininity of a given time and place. This approach to the works of art must be tempered, however, by a careful consideration of the qualities of artistic style, the conventions which define it, and the purpose for which the object was made. Artistic style can oscillate between naturalism and abstraction, and one must be careful not to confuse the artistic or aesthetic ideal with the physical ideal of the woman being represented. The more naturalistic the representation, the more tangible is the information given; the less naturalistic the forms, the less concrete can our statements be about ideals of beauty. One should not make the mistake of attempting a literal interpretation of an abstract or highly schematized image. Conversely, one must recognize that naturalistic imagery in antiquity inevitably incorporates a body of conventions and stylizations.

It is interesting in considering four regions of the ancient Near East, that the distinctions in modes of representation do not rest solely on the distinguishable ethnic differences, although these undoubtedly form some part of the beauty ideal cultivated in each region. However, the pervasiveness of canonic forms of representation in a given region demonstrates a cultural ideal which clearly supersedes mere ethnic traits and individualized representation.

The ideal which suffuses all female Egyptian sculpture is one of slender, smooth-flowing curves. In Egyptian images women appear to be small-boned, long-limbed, and graceful (Fig. 13). All the fleshy parts of the body, such as breasts, thighs, hips, are always firm and rounded and have a subtle sensuality. They are never enlarged or exaggerated. In fact, the Egyptian is so conscious of his ideal, that one of the rare times one sees fat women is in Egyptian representations of foreigners. [7] By contrast, Egyptian men could be represented with carefully stylized rolls of fat to indicate age, rank, or status. [8] The seated pose, the cubic nature of the volumes, and the immobility of the forms (Figs. 1, 13, 14), are symptomatic of Egyptian art in general rather than any specific ideal of female beauty.

Typical of Egyptian art, women's garments, seemingly transparent, cling to the body, revealing all its parts, while transforming them into subtly geometricized forms. Jewelry obviously played an important role in Egyptian society for men and women, and therefore it is carefully translated on most human images in Egyptian art. Not only did it beautify the individual and lend vibrancy to the image, but it clearly reflected wealth and status, and often served an amuletic purpose. Its representation in art is in many ways a metaphor for the function it served in real life, setting off the smooth planes of the face with colorful forms and patterns.
Interestingly enough, painted representations of Egyptian men and women typically show the women lighter-skinned than the men, a convention which suggests that women ideally spent more time indoors. Characteristic of Egyptian fashion-consciousness are the elaborate hairdos and wigs that enlarge and focus attention upon the head. These vary considerably from period to period. Here, however, the goddess Neith (Fig. 13) wears the pharaonic Red Crown of Lower Egypt, and her hair is not revealed. The quality of aesthetic contrast, as well as the demonstration of personal status and rank, are inherent in all accessories, such as hairdress and costume.

Mesopotamian images in general are squatter and stockier than their Egyptian counterparts. This does not necessarily reflect reality, but rather an ideal, since in both regions the tendencies persist in art from earliest times on. The Mesopotamian female image is almost always heavier and more full- bodied than its Egyptian counterpart. Face, limbs, and torso are often thick and well-rounded. Faces of Mesopotamian images are often broad and massive, articulated by thick eyebrows meeting over a prominent nose, wide, heavy- rimmed eyes, full lips, and rounded chin. This contrasts with the more refined Egyptian faces with small noses and almond-shaped eyes delicately extended by cosmetic lines. The Mesopotamian ideal can produce an attractive, if somewhat hefty, representation (Figs. 6-7).

In contrast to the diaphanous quality of Egyptian garments, the weighty, tiered garments of Mesopotamian goddesses are de rigeur for divinities, while everyday garments are simpler in their rendering. While hair on female images in Mesopotamia may be dressed elaborately, i.e., in buns or plaits, it does not show the extravagance of Egyptian wigs. Headgear may vary depending on the role and status of the wearer (e.g., the horned headdresses of goddesses). Necklaces and pendants are often seen on women of high status and on goddesses (Figs. 2, 4, 5, 7), and seem to serve similar functions as in Egypt.

A glass head from Syria (Fig. 15) reflects the non-naturalistic style more typical of that region. The remnants of a knobbed headgear and large hoop earrings can be compared with renderings of Syrian deities. [9] The head retains strong stylistic coherence, treating the facial features in much the same way as the decorative details of the headgear. On the other hand, the art of the Phoenicians, inhabitants of the Levantine coast, is traditionally more naturalistic than that of the inland towns, and often absorbs features of neighboring cultures. Most striking is the Egyptianizing tendency which dominates in the first millennium B.C., and is here exemplified by an ivory head said to be from Arslan Tash (Fig. 3), which probably decorated a piece of furniture. The ideal of feminine beauty here is a composite of more traditional Egyptian elements such as wig and ear placement, combined with the fleshier facial type of the Levant. This is an example of how foreign fashions and ideals can be assimilated to create a native style with its own functioning criteria.

Within the art of Iran, the pervasive mode is imaginative abstraction. Naturalistic styles do appear, but they tend to aggregate in specific geographic regions (e.g., Elam). The pieces illustrated here (Figs. 9-12) exemplify a tendency, typical of northwestern Iran, toward striking distortion of anatomy with an imaginative reorganization of the parts. Although not demonstrated by our pieces, often elements of different beings are combined to create fantastic and composite figures to represent superhuman forces. These fanciful and sophisticated forms have a special appeal to contemporary taste, and numerous examples of this art have found their way into private and public collections.

While the gender of the figure on the bronze standards is not always clear, our example (Fig. 12) specifically depicts small knobby breasts supported by atrophied hands and arms, a gesture of female fertility that goes back to the Old Stone Age. A related gesture can be seen on the three ceramic figurines (Figs. 9-11), two of which may also be cult vessels (Figs. 9-10). The demonic qualities of these creatures, emphasized by their mask-like faces, suggests that they may also have served apotropaic functions. The concept of the female as a vessel, which has Neolithic prototypes, is the perfect assimilation of the biological function of the female to the ritual purpose of the ceramic form.

These figures illustrate only a small selection of the varied roles exemplified by female imagery in ancient Near Eastern art. Portraits exist of important women who were queens, royal mothers, and spouses. In one case at least, a woman usurped the royal prerogatives of a male ruler, showing herself with the attributes of kingship usually reserved for males. This was Hatshepsut, a ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. [10] This assumption of the throne by a female was quite unique in ancient history, although many women clearly exercised enormous power in ancient politics.
Aside from royal marriages which are documented historically, many images of couples exist which illustrate the conjugal state, from modest displays of affection (Fig. 5) to representations of sexual intercourse, probably ritual in nature (Fig. 8). [11] Renderings of motherhood exist which may also have cultic significance, in addition to the more secular depictions of serving maids, craftswomen, and entertainers. A vast repertoire of objects associated with the world of women, many of which can find contemporary parallels, reflects woman's continuing interest in self-adornment. These include toilet articles, perfume bottles, cosmetic palettes, mirrors, and jewelry. The changing styles and regional variations show that fashions in the past were at least as elaborate and meaningful as any of our own time, and that then, as now, fashion was a reflection of the social structure.

Biblical literature supplies us with numerous examples of women as matriarchs, helpmeets, heroines, lovers, seductresses, prostitutes, virgins, and concubines, all of which still function as the basic stereotypes of today, and most of which are grounded in sexual role-playing. The concepts, then as now, illustrate the basically subservient position of women, who have thus unwittingly sustained through the millennia a world dominated by men.

This article is a preliminary investigation of material which the authors are studying in depth for future publication.
[1] See Ilse Seibert, Women in the Ancient Near East, New York, 1974, p. 11 and passim, and bibliography, p. 63 ff.
[2] Bernard V. Bothmer, Egyptian Sculpture of the Late Period, 700 B.C.-A.D. 100, New York, The Brooklyn Museum, 1960, pp. xxx-xxxi.

[3] The objects which were used to illustrate this paper have been made available through the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ternbach, Forest Hills, New York. Our thanks also to Ms. Nancy Williams for information derived from her work cataloging the Ternbach collection.

[4] For comparative examples see also E. Douglas Van Buren, Clay Figurines of Babylonia and Assyria, Yale Oriental Series. Researches, Vol. XVI; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930, pp. 222-23, nos. 1083-1088; pi. LVII, figs. 275-76 (nude woman on couch); pp. 223-24, nos. 1089-1095 (embracing couple on couch); Donald E. McCown and Richard C. Haines, assisted by Donald P. Hansen, Nippur I: Temple of Enlil, Scribal Quarter and Soundings Oriental Institute Publications, Vol. LXXVIII; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967, p. 94; pi. 144, nos. 2-4 (model beds, one with female pudenda), pi. 144, nos. 5-6 (nude woman on couch).

[5] R. D. Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimrud Ivories, London, The British Museum, 1957, pp. 145-51. On this example the earlobes are enlarged as though for earrings. According to Barnett, pp. 147-48, both the earrings and the frontlet worn over the forehead can be associated with Ishtar.

[6] See comments concerning "scenes of copulation" in ancient art by Otto J. Brendel, "The Scope and Temperament of Erotic Art in the Greco-Roman World," in Studies in Erotic Art, ed. Theodore Bowie and Cornelia V. Christenson, New York, 1970, pp. 7-8 and n. 5. See also Edith Porada, "Iconography and Style of a Cylinder Seal from Kantara in Cyprus," Vorderasiatische Archaologie: Festschrift A. Moortgat, Berlin, 1964, pp. 234-39, especially n. 3 and pi. 33:4. Also Henri Seyrig, "Antiquites syriennes, 60. 'Quelques cylindres orientaux. 4: Scene de hierogamie' ", Syria, 32 (1955), 38-41; Henri Frankfort, Cylinder Seals, London, 1939, pp. 75-76, 77. A related example may be seen in McCown, Haines and Hansen, pl. 137:4.

[7] For an easily available illustration see W. Stevenson Smith, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt, Harmondsworth, 1958, pl. 92 B; also Edward L. B. Terrace and Henry G. Fischer, Treasures of Egyptian Art from the Cairo Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1970, pp. 101-102.

[8] Smith, pl. 31 B; for other easily available examples see Kazimir Michalowski, Art of Ancient Egypt, New York, 1968, p. 364, no. 211; Terrace and Fischer, pp. 113-14 (no. 24).

[9] A bronze female figurine from Beirut in the Louvre in Paris has one of its gold earrings preserved and wears a high polos headdress decorated with knobs. An easily accessible illustration of this can be seen in Henri Frankfort, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, 1st paperback ed., Harmonds- worth, 1970, p. 259, figs. 299-300. The headdress on the glass head may have been somewhat different in configuration since its upper edge appears to be finished and not broken off and the embossed band above the knobs is vertically hatched.

[10] Smith, pls. 94 A, 95 A, and p. 135.

[11] See n. 4 above.

Betty L. Schlossman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at Montclair State College, Upper Montclair, New Jersey.
Hildreth J. York is an Associate Professor in the Art Department of Rutgers University, Newark College of Arts and Sciences, New Jersey.

Source: Art Journal
Published by: College Art Association
Via  Women in Ancient Art

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Two Films on Iran 1970

Baadeh Sabah / The Lovers' Wind / Vent Des Amoureux by Albert Lamorisse (1922-1970)
Shot 1970, completed posthumously 1978, 35mm

"A well- known French filmmaker, Albert Lamorisse, under the auspices of Iran's Ministry of Culture and Art, produced the poetic film "Lovers' Wind" (1969). Eighty-five percent of this dramatically visual film is shot from a helicopter, providing a kaleidoscopic view of the vast expanses, natural beauty, historical monuments, cities and villages of Iran. The "narrators" of the film are the various winds (the warm, crimson, evil and lovers' winds), which according to folklore, inhabit Iran. They sweep the viewers from place to place across the Iranian landscape, introducing the incredible variety of life and scenery in Iran. The camera, defying gravity, with smoothness and agility, provides a bird's eye view, caressing minarets and domes, peeking over mountain tops beyond, gliding over remote villages to reveal the life enclosed within the high mud-brick walls, bouncing along with the local wildlife, following the rhythmic, sinuous flow of the oil pipelines and train tracks, and hovering over the mirror-like mosaic of the rice paddies that reflect the clouds and sky. The film is a testimonial to the Iranian landscape and people over which so many dynasties and kings have ruled and have, in turn, passed away. Ironically, on the tenth anniversary of the completion of the film, yet another seemingly powerful dynasty (Pahlavi) has fallen, leaving, as the film points out, the land and the migrating tribal nomads who have survived more or less intact for centuries. Upon completion of the film, the Ministry of Culture and Art decided that Lamorisse had not sufficiently emphasized the industrialization of Iran. So he was called back to film additional sequences documenting that progress. This task was never completed, because the helicopter crashed while filming the Karaj Dam near Tehran, plunging Lamorisse and his crew to their deaths. This film, whose storybook style of narration is often contrived, does not purport to be a social document on Iran; nevertheless, it has never been shown publicly in theaters in Iran." -- Hamid Naficy
Iran (1971)
A documentary by Claude LeLouch (b. 1937)
Audio/Visual: sound, color
Music: Francis Lai
18 Minutes

This film is best understood after watching Albert Lamorisse's Baadeh Sabah, an ostentatious propaganda film of the same commission that was originally rejected for it's inadequate portrayal of Iran's nouveau-modernism (urban youth, industrial marvels) and it's overly-lyrical style. In LeLouche's rendition, there are no such inadequacies. The focus is on culture - heritage, modernity and (what soon would be named) Westernization. Past and present meet - veils and miniskirts, camels and helicopters, remains of ancient Persia, the highlights of Islamic art, caviar and the oil fields and gas pumps. The Shah looks good in white turtlenecks and Farah Diba is seen in the Farah Diba hairstyle. This charming couple didn't copy Europan royalty, rather appeared as an Eastern equivalent to Mr. and Mrs. John F. Kennedy - Pax Americana had succeeded Rule Britannia. The Pahlavi dynasty was a young one, but here the Shah is depicted as the modern link in an old tradition. Many emperors have used this trick to establish a dynasty, or at least their own position. By this time the picture of Iran was changing. There was more talk of political refugees than of hairstyles. Some years passed. Came the Islamic revolution, and Westernization was banned. Very soon it was about good or evil, black or white. This film has the quality of being both entertaining and evoking the big question of our time.